The SBA takes its SDVOSB joint venture requirements very seriously, and even a relatively minor deviation or omission can be enough to render a joint venture ineligible.
Time and time again, the SBA’s Office of Hearing and Appeals has shown that it will strictly enforce the rules governing SDVOSB status. OHA’s stance on SDVOSB joint venture agreements is no different. A recent OHA ruling reinforces that SDVOSB joint venture agreements must abide by the letter of the regulation when it comes to required items in the agreement.
The SBA has released its proposed consolidated rule for SDVOSB eligibility, which was published in the Federal Register today. Once the rule becomes final, it will apply government-wide, to both VA and non-VA SDVOSB contracts.
For SDVOSBs, a uniform set of rules is a very good thing. There has been far too much chaos and confusion under the current system, in which the SBA and VA have different SDVOSB eligibility requirements. But how about the substance of the proposal itself? Well, there are certainly some things to like–and some areas that could use improvement.
The VA has formally proposed to eliminate its SDVOSB and VOSB ownership and control regulations.
Once the proposed change is finalized, the VA will use the SBA’s regulations to evaluate SDVOSB and VOSB eligibility, as required by the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.
The SBA’s strict SDVOSB ownership rules can produce “draconian and perverse” results, but are nonetheless legal, according to a federal judge.
In a recent decision, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims condemned the SBA’s SDVOSB unconditional ownership requirements, while holding that the SBA was within its legal rights to impose those requirements on the company in question.
The Court’s decision emphasizes the important differences between the SBA and VA SDVOSB programs, because the Court held that although the company in question didn’t qualify as an SDVOSB under the SBA’s strict rules, it was eligible for VA SDVOSB verification under the VA’s separate eligibility rules.
The Court of Federal Claims recently issued an opinion that defines “unconditional ownership” of an SDVOSB in a more relaxed manner than the SBA, creating a split of authority on the issue.
The Court, rejecting SBA precedent, held that certain restrictions on ownership of an SDVOSB by a service-disabled veteran are acceptable under the SBA’s unconditional ownership regulations. In particular, the SDVOSB company can retain a right of first refusal that would allow it to purchase the shares of the veteran upon death, incompetency, or insolvency, and that right does not result in a violation of the unconditional ownership requirement.
With the Court and the SBA’s administrative judges staking out different positions, what should SDVOSBs do?
The VA has officially withdrawn its November 2015 proposal to overhaul its SDVOSB and VOSB regulations.
The VA’s action isn’t surprising, given that the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act requires the VA to work with the SBA to prepare a consolidated set of SDVOSB regulations, which will then apply to both VA and non-VA procurements. What’s interesting, though, is that the VA doesn’t say that it’s withdrawing the 2015 proposal because of the 2017 NDAA, but rather because of numerous objections to the proposal–including objections from the SBA.